Guest Articles

June 12

Mette Morsing

The Global Impact of South-South Cooperation: The Case for Teaching Developing Countries’ Solutions to Business Students Worldwide

The term “South-South Cooperation” refers to a broad framework for collaboration and exchange among countries in the Global South, involving the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains. Part of the value of South-South Cooperation lies in its ability to empower countries to shape home-grown responses to development problems, rather than relying on external interventions.

In my many conversations with professors, deans, students and executives in the Global South since I took on the role of Head of the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) at the UN Global Compact, the call for more South-South collaboration is increasingly salient. These collaborations have an immediate appeal: It’s easy to see why businesses, funders, governments, research institutions and other development-focused entities that encounter the same kind of challenges should learn from and help each other.

But it is important to note that the call for South-South collaborations does not in any sense imply the exclusion of collaborations with partners in the Global North. On the contrary, the need for partnerships across regions is a basic tenet of global development. Instead of encouraging exclusion, the call for South-South collaborations is based on an interest in fostering knowledge exchange among regions and countries that face similar challenges related to climate change, governance and social development — and that have often developed solutions to these challenges that may also work in other parts of the world.


The History and Impact of South-South Cooperation

The seeds of South-South Cooperation were first planted in 1964, when the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was established to promote economic cooperation among developing countries. To further advance this growing cooperation, the UN established the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation in 1974, hosted by the UN Development Programme.

Global progress toward these goals ramped up in 1978 with the United Nations Conference on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries, held in Buenos Aires. The event led to the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries by 138 UN member states. This initiative developed a scheme of collaboration among “least-developed countries” and established the first framework for South-South Cooperation, which incorporated the basic principles of relations between these countries, including respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs and equality of rights, among others.

The basic ambition then was to explore how South-South Cooperation could be leveraged to achieve sustainable development — and that ambition continues today, as applied to the globally-agreed blueprint for peace, prosperity and environmental protection adopted at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and embodied by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since people in the Global South experience some of the harshest impacts of climate change, inequality and other development challenges, it’s no surprise that they have developed some of the most advanced, low-cost and long-term solutions to these problems. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it during the inauguration of the 10th Global South-South Development Expo in 2018, “Innovative forms of knowledge exchange, technology transfer, emergency response and recovery of livelihoods led by the South are transforming lives.” Examples of this impact as it relates to climate change include BioInnovate Africa, which is supporting countries’ efforts to develop and commercialize biofuel as an affordable, low-carbon emission alternative for rural households, and the international Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator initiative, which aims to accelerate the implementation of zero-emission buses in major Latin American cities.

Additionally, the countries of the Global South are increasingly well-positioned to assist one another: As Guterres pointed out at the 2018 Expo, they have contributed to more than half of the world’s growth in recent years; intra-south trade is higher than ever, accounting for more than a quarter of all world trade; the outflows of foreign direct investment from the South represent a third of global flows; and remittances from migrant workers to low- and middle-income countries reached US $466 billion in 2017, which helped lift millions of families out of poverty.


The Role of Business Schools in Supporting South-South Relationships and Solutions 

However, despite these benefits, it can be challenging to exchange knowledge in South-South relationships due to a lack of quality information (e.g., data, case studies,) about what works and what doesn’t, and a lack of infrastructure (e.g., processes, change agents) to collect and disseminate it. It can also be difficult to scale effective solutions to benefit wider populations, beyond those that first developed these approaches based on their own locally acquired experiences and knowledge. Disseminating and scaling these solutions will require a firm commitment from Global South countries, in partnerships with global constituencies like the UN, the World Bank and other development-focused institutions.

The global business sector — with its vast resources and experience turning promising innovations into scalable solutions — also has a key role to play. But are these businesses prepared for the task? According to the most recent United Nations Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study, “94% of CEOs feel that the resilience of their businesses is being impacted by employees lacking the relevant skills for the future of work, with 91% pointing to lack of sustainability talent.”

This puts a huge responsibility on the business school educators who are preparing the next generation of young leaders to tackle these challenges — not just in the South, but also in the Global North. All our students, regardless of where they’re educated, will likely need to engage with the challenges facing the South, as these issues will impact many of the key decisions they’ll make in their business careers — from where to invest and how to operate both profitably and sustainably, to how to develop ethical incentive structures for their managers.

This means that business schools in the North will need to find case studies, literature, ideas and business practices from the South to bring into their classrooms. It means that business schools in the South will need to focus more on refining their curricula to teach students how products and practices devised to address local problems or tap local markets can be adapted to advance societal impact and business development in other developing countries and regions. To that end, global organizations such as PRME and the Network for Business Sustainability facilitate communities of practice by convening conferences, workshops and meetings specifically focused on knowledge exchange.

South-South Cooperation has generated a wealth of new ideas and concrete projects that have impacted both business and societal development around the world, while also enabling voices from the Global South to drive innovation and advance development in their local communities. The North has a lot to learn from these approaches too. The more business schools can support knowledge exchange between Global South innovators and their peers in the developed and developing worlds, the more the entrepreneurs and business leaders of tomorrow will be able to tap these unprecedented opportunities, to the benefit of business, society and the planet.


Mette Morsing is the Head of Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

Photo courtesy of British High Commission, New Delhi.




Education, Technology
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